Children as young as 10 are working long hours on low pay in a variety of jobs ranging from paper rounds to working in sawmills. and building sites. One 12-year-old boy was discovered working as a receptionist for a minicab firm in Cumbria for 10p an hour.
The research was carried out by Dr Jim McKechnie of the University of Paisley, and challenges the stereotypicalnotion that child labour is only found in Third World countries.
Speaking at the launch of a report published by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), documenting the plight of young children working around the world, Dr McKechnie said that the growing problem of child labour in Britain had been neglected.in recent years.
"People living in the developed world seem to get up on their soap boxes and preach to the underdeveloped world about the appalling child labour conditions in their countries, when in fact everything isn't so rosy in their own back garden," he said.
The main problem, he added, was that local authorities were neglecting the issue of work permitsto children, under the age of 16and rarely exercised their right to fine employers who exploit children illegally.
He added that the old myth that says that poverty is the main cause of child labour is no longer true in Britain, with more middle-class children doing "beneficial" work experience.which has a bad effect on their health and hinders schoolwork.
The research shows that 70 per cent of children have been involved in some sort of paid employment outside the family by the age of 16, earning on average pounds 1-pounds 2 an hour. In the north of England and Scotland, 29 per cent of children had worked before the age of 13.
Citing a number of Dickensian examples gained from five years researching the subjectin schools across the Midlands, Scotland and the north of England, Dr McKechnie said that he found one "very young" boy working in a sawmill in Dumfries, Galloway, and another who suffocated last year when cleaning out a vat at a chemical factory.
Labour's overseas development spokeswoman Clare Short praised the work of Unicef, and called for politicians recognise the plight of children across the world: "The politicians and media are suffering from compassion fatigue and cynicism when it comes to this subject ... instead of talking about ridiculous buildings in Greenwich to celebrate the millennium, why don't we determine to see an era where no children are malnourished, who all have primary health care," she said.